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Fluto Shinzawa | On hockey

Bruins not equipped to take on Canadiens in playoffs

Canadiens goalie Carey Price reaches out to block the puck from getting to the Bruins’ Daniel Paille.Steven Senna/Associated Press

The Bruins have 28 games remaining in the regular season. That’s still enough for things to go sideways.

Chances are likely, however, that the Bruins will remain among the top eight in the Eastern Conference and qualify for the playoffs. The ninth-place Panthers lost to the Predators in a shootout Saturday. The Panthers are 6 points behind the Bruins, a deficit that will be difficult to wipe out with just over two months remaining until the postseason begins.

Assuming the Bruins make the playoffs, they could face off against the second-place Canadiens in the first round. This would not be a good thing.

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The Canadiens have the Bruins’ number. They swept the four-game season series Sunday at TD Garden with a 3-1 win.

Last year, they stopped the Bruins’ march toward the Stanley Cup. They could send them golfing yet again this spring.

“It can’t,” coach Claude Julien answered when asked if Montreal presented a mental block for his team. “We can’t allow it.”

The Canadiens are a frustrating team to play. Offensively, they are a quick-strike team. They do not need much time to put the puck into the net.

In the third period, Zdeno Chara ran over Dougie Hamilton and forced his partner to cough up the puck. Before Chara and Hamilton hit the deck, Max Pacioretty had blown the zone and pulled away in anticipation of Dale Weise’s outlet pass. There wasn’t a Bruin in sight as Pacioretty cruised down the middle of the ice and snapped his breakaway shot past Tuukka Rask at 0:56 for the game-winning goal.

In the defensive zone, the Canadiens are tougher to negotiate than snowbanks on Beacon Hill. Forwards backcheck with purpose and challenge point shots. Defensemen step in front of pucks and box out forwards.

It does not hurt to have the best goalie going.

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Carey Price (29-11-2, 2.03 goals-against average, .932 save percentage) is on pace to win his first Vezina Trophy. He now has 208 career wins, tying him with Bill Durnan for fourth place on Montreal’s all-time list.

He has the highest save percentage of any regular goalie in the NHL. Price is very good at negating his teammates’ mistakes — even his own.

In the second period, Price came out of his crease to play the puck. He didn’t get enough of it. The puck skittered to Loui Eriksson, who tried to shoot it into the empty net. Price recovered, coolly poked out his stick, and got a piece of the puck before tucking it safely into his glove at the 19:10 mark.

It was a rare puckhandling misplay by the sure-handed Price. He is not as dynamic or creative zooming out of his net to play the puck as are Mike Smith or Ben Bishop, two of the best at the skill. But Price moves effortlessly wherever he goes. Opponents make sure to dump the puck into the Montreal zone with purpose to keep Price from creeping out, settling it, and getting it back into friendly hands.

It is just one element in which Price is a game-changing player. There is no panic in Price’s game. Everything he does oozes with smoothness and confidence.

In the second period, the Bruins almost had him beat. After Price punched out a Gregory Campbell shot with his blocker, Daniel Paille zoomed in for the rebound. But Price reached back and sticked away Paille’s bid to keep his net clear.

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The only time Price was beaten was in the third period. The Bruins’ line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci, and David Pastrnak entered the offensive zone with speed. Pastrnak jumped on the rebound of a Lucic shot and cranked a slap shot on goal. The puck hit traffic and rolled over the line at 15:29 before Price could pull it back out of the net. Of the Bruins’ 35 shots, it was the only one that Price couldn’t handle.

“I don’t think we made Carey Price’s night real hard,” Julien said. “He didn’t have to move much. He just stood there and stopped the shots. Those are areas that weren’t good enough. In order to beat this team that really gets up for us, our best players have to be our best players. We didn’t have that tonight.”

Price isn’t the reason the Bruins didn’t get to their rush game consistently. The Canadiens did a good job of slowing the Bruins in the neutral zone. The Bruins didn’t win enough races for the puck to rev up their wheels to full pace. They played at dial-up pace, which does not lead to good things against a fast and skilled club like Montreal.

The Bruins are at their best when they play with swagger. They never do against Montreal. Instead, the Canadiens play smart, skilled, speedy, and in-your-face hockey. They don’t play scared.

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If the Bruins and Canadiens play again this year, it will be in the playoffs. The Canadiens will welcome the challenge.

Having the best goalie in the game helps you play that way.


Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.